A lingering summer Dream at Bard on the Beach

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Bard on the Beach | Sen̓áḵw / Vanier Park | June 8 – September 24, 2022

Bard on the Beach returns to the play that started it all for their first live production since 2019. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a popular play melding fantasy, humour, and love — a good bet for the festival’s sole mainstage production this year.

Returning to the big tent in Sen̓áḵw on a beautiful summer evening was like a dream. Looking out the back of the tent at the sunset, geese, and cyclists, it was the perfect backdrop for a play in which most of the action takes place outdoors.

The vaguely 1920s set transforms from a sort of train station (the setting isn’t totally clear) to the forest outside Athens. Four friends, Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius, discuss Hermia’s predicament – her father has presented with the choice to marry Demetrius, who she does not love, or to be a nun or face death. She plans to run away with Lysander into the forest. Helena, who is in love with Demetrius, hatches a plan to tell Demetrius about the lovers running away so that he will follow them into the forest in pursuit of Hermia. Helena plans to follow them all while somehow making Demetrius fall in love with her.

Helena (Emily Dallas) does a wonderful job as the unrequited lover. She is beside herself with jealousy as Demetrius dotes on her friend Hermia and has a fit of frustration once she’s alone. Along with Lysander (Olivia Hutt) she is one of the stronger actors. Hermia’s (Heidi Damayo) performance often feels a bit surface level, and somehow Demetrius (Christopher Allen) isn’t as believable. All four of them are a bit over the top in a slapstick scene involving hair pulling and name calling.

The actor who really steals the show is Carly Street as Bottom. So much so that at times her performance distracts from anything else happening on stage. She is hilarious though and has a natural comedic talent. In this production Bottom has some extra lines such as saying, “I have no idea what’s going on” and after saying “wherefore” adding, “It means why.” On the one hand, these little asides add humour and adapt the play for a modern audience who might be unfamiliar with the language, but on the other hand, they draw attention away from the scene and interfere with the integrity of the dialogue, almost making a mockery of things. Perhaps less of this would have been the way to go.

Fairies Cobweb, Mustardseed, and Peaseblossom, played by SFU School for the Contemporary Arts dance students and choreographed by Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, are beautifully graceful and each have their own movement personalities. Their costumes, along with Titania and Oberon’s are also stunning. Particularly Oberon (Billy Marchenski) who enters on stilts with long branches for arms — an imposing tree with a very deep voice. The goblins, another addition to this adaptation, are very creepy with large horns and flowing black robes. They surround and attack the fairies until Puck rescues them, but not before they stop to take a selfie with Lysander’s old-fashioned camera (one example of the setting not really adding up).

Puck (Sarah Roa) and Oberon cause all the mayhem and confusion in the forest when they use a love potion to trick Titania to “wake when some vile thing is near” and she falls in love with Bottom who has been transformed into a donkey. Puck accidentally uses the potion on Lysander instead of Demetrius, and Helena assumes she’s being pranked as both men fawn all over her. Bottom is hilarious as a donkey who is quite bemused about why Titania is in love with him, and the four lovers who’ve escaped into the forest continue running around after one another with varying degrees of humour and authenticity.

Probably the strongest element of this production is the bumbling troupe of players who are rehearsing Pyramus and Thisbe to perform in front of the Duke. I found myself looking forward to their scenes and enjoying them more than the scenes with the lovers or the fairies. In typical Bard fashion the play is capped off nicely with a song and dance that sums things up and leaves us feeling a sense of closure and hope. As Puck says his final lines and the whole cast takes to the stage singing lines like “May you walk through this wood without trouble or strife,” it seems they are talking about more than a fictional wood outside Athens and we are left to carry a bit of the Dream with us as we return to reality.  

 

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